MINELRES: IWPR'S Caucasus No.298: Azeris and Armenians best of friends in Moscow

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Mon Aug 8 13:11:01 2005

Original sender: Institute for War & Peace Reporting <info@iwpr.net> 

Caucasus Reporting Service No. 298 



in a city where both Armenians and Azerbaijanis feel like strangers. By Samira 
Ahmedbeily and Elina Arzumanian in Moscow

DAGESTAN’S MUSHROOMING UNIVERSITIES The town of Derbent has dozens of higher 
education institutes – and thousands of poorly educated students. By Rinat 
Turabov in Derbent. 

DOGS OF WAR IN CHECHNYA A new threat in Chechnya – this time from wild dogs and 
other animals, some carrying rabies. By Amina Visayeva in Grozny

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National conflict is forgotten in a city where both Armenians and Azerbaijanis 
feel like strangers.

By Samira Ahmedbeily and Elina Arzumanian in Moscow

“Your nationality doesn’t matter in Moscow,” said Agif Abdullaev, a 33-year-old 
Azerbaijani. “What matters is whether you are a local or a visitor. Migrants 
here share one overriding concern: how to survive in this giant city.”

Agif, an economics graduate, spent three years looking in vain for a job at 
home, so he decided to move to Moscow and join the army of market traders from 
the Caucasus. In 1998, he met and went into business with Levon Arayan, an 
Armenian, at the Kuzminki market.

Although the two nations have been in conflict with one another over the 
disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh since 1988, Armenians and Azerbaijanis 
in Moscow say they get along well with one another – and often find they have 
much in common as Caucasians in the Russian capital.

“I offered him my goods, and we did a deal and started doing business 
together,” recalled Levon. “National hatred between our people is no obstacle 
to business. We hardly ever talk about politics or Karabakh. The whole thing 
was orchestrated by those in power. Regular people like us have always been 
good neighbours.” 

Levon joked, “What’s the use of that land [Karabakh] to Armenia anyway? I think 
we should donate it to Azerbaijan in exchange for an oilfield.”

“Levon is the only person I know who will always help me out in emergency,” 
said Agif. “Once I had to scrape together 4,000 dollars. He gave me the money, 
no questions asked. We really trust each other. It’s hard to find someone you 
can trust in this day and age.”

His business partner chimed in, “I’ve borrowed large sums from Agif, too. Our 
joint business has been very successful. We have recently started a new project 
at the Tekstilshchiki market.”

The two men visit each other’s homes frequently - but only in Moscow. Because 
of the unresolved Karabakh conflict, Agif cannot invite Levon to Baku, while 
Levon thinks it would be too dangerous for Agif to show up in his native Gyumri 
in Armenia. “I rarely go back there myself,” said Levon. “It’s not fit for 
living in. I only go to see my family there once a year, for three or four 
days.” Agif said he travels to Baku quite often, but never tells his 
Azerbaijani family about doing business with an Armenian.

If the 2002 census results are to be believed, there are 96,000 Azerbaijanis 
and 124,000 Armenians in Moscow, each group accounting for about one per cent 
of the city’s population. However, most observers think this is a gross 

Muscovites were never especially friendly to visitors from the Caucasus, even 
in Soviet times. Now they are lumped together under the pejorative tag 
of “persons of Caucasian nationality”. The conflict in Chechnya has worsened 
Russians’ attitude towards people from the region, and harassment and race 
attacks on southerners have become commonplace.

This shared experience of xenophobia has brought Armenians and Azerbaijanis 
closer together. But in many cases the partnership is of longer standing, 
stemming from a shared background in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, which once 
had a large Armenian population of 200,000. All but a handful of them left Baku 
between 1988 and 1990.

Edik Mirzoyan and Yashar Huseinov, an Armenian and Azerbaijani respectively, 
run a flower stall at the entrance to the University metro station. The two are 
childhood friends from Baku and have been in business together for six years. 
Yashar trusts his partner more than anyone else in the world. “Our business is 
quite recent, but Edik and I go way back,” he said. “We’re childhood friends. 
That kind of bond is stronger than money. We don’t care what goes on in and 
around Karabakh,” he said. 

“All my family are in Armenia, except my wife,” said Edik. “When she gave 
birth, only Yashar’s wife Nargiz was here to help her. I will never forget 
that.” The Armenian added, “It’s a pity that for religious reasons I cannot ask 
Yashar to be my son’s godfather, even though he is the closest friend I have in 

Artur Shakhramanian and Zemfira Salimova are husband and wife as well as 
business partners. They got married in Baku 20 years ago, but three years 
later, when their daughter had just turned one, hostilities broke out between 
Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Baku.

“My husband is a native of Baku. I come from Ganje,” recalled Zemfira, who is 
Azerbaijani. “We both went to the Pedagogical Institute in Baku. We married 
during our graduation year. Then all hell broke loose. My husband’s family fled 
to Armenia and wanted Artur to come along. My family insisted I get a divorce. 
We defied them all and moved to Moscow.”

Artur, Zemfira and their daughter – now 18 – all work at an upmarket restaurant 
owned by an Azerbaijani. Zemfira tends the bar, Artur is the gardener and their 
daughter manages the office.

“It was tough until the mid-Nineties, but since then we’ve been back in touch 
with our families,” said Artur. “We call, and they visit us from both Armenia 
and Azerbaijan. I’ve been working here for about six years, and I’ve never had 
any problem because of my ethnic background. I am a good gardener, and that’s 
all that my boss cares about.”

Caucasians have traditionally specialised in certain trades in Moscow – 
commonly working as market traders and ticket inspectors.

Vardan and Melikabbas, an Armenian and Azerbaijani, used to work in a market 
but now have jobs as inspectors on tram route 28.

“Being a ticket inspector is a good job for people like us from the Caucasus,” 
admitted Vardan. “Many of the people we catch without a ticket are our fellow 
countrymen. For a small fee, we let them go. For them it’s better than paying a 
fine, and it’s good for us too. That way we supplement our meagre salaries.”

And – as if to confirm the prejudices of some Muscovites - the two 
nationalities team up in the criminal world as well. 

In June, the police arrested an Armenian and an Azerbaijani for armed robbery 
in Moscow’s Shchukinsky district. According to police reports, Alexei Aserian 
and Hasan Aliev spotted a man in a gambling hall who had a huge wad of cash in 
his wallet. The temptation was too strong to resist - when he left, they 
followed him and mugged him in a dark street. 

A week later, they were detained at the same gaming venue. Investigators say 
this was not the first robbery they had committed, and are holding them in 
custody pending trial.

Samira Ahmedbeily is a journalist with Azerros newspaper in Moscow.. Elina 
Arzumanian is a reporter for Mir TV and radio company


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